The James Webb Space Telescope is due to launch into space on December 18, and this week Steamboat is given a unique opportunity to meet and ask questions of one of its mechanical engineers, Lana Klingemann.
Klingemann will speak from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Klingemann, whose area of expertise was creating mechanisms on board the telescope, will explain some of the key technologies she helped develop in the process of creating the telescope. She will also describe the challenges and difficulties surrounding the Hubble Space Telescope as to why its successor, the James Webb, was needed.
“Lana brings a personal connection to technology, space and Hubble’s scientific successor to our doorstep,” said Jennie Lay, director of adult programs at the library. “After decades of marveling at Hubble’s images, we are all poised to see even deeper into space with the James Webb Telescope.”
The James Webb Space Telescope – which has been under construction for more than two decades – is the largest and most powerful ever to be sent into space. Unique in its design, its mirror is made up of 18 gold-plated deployable hexagonal segments. The objectives range from collecting the lingering light of the big bang to looking for signs of life on exoplanets.
Klingemann said she was very excited to see smaller planets – called exoplanets – orbiting other stars rather than the sun.
“With our current technology, we can only see large planets,” she explained. “But the James Webb will have the ability to see smaller planets and give us the potential to understand if there is life there – or if there was 10 million years.”
And while the distances in question are so extreme that they are somewhat limiting, Klingemann explained that it forces us to look back in time.
“The telescope will not tell if there is life on the planet right now, but it will show the potential of a planet to produce life,” she said. “It’s a huge paradigm shift in astronomy; it will answer questions that we don’t even have yet.
In elementary school, Klingemann completed a science project on black holes and has been fascinated ever since. The James Webb Space Telescope has been a project she’s been working on since being offered an internship with Ball Aerospace as a senior academic. Now, after years of working to design, build and test the telescope’s mirror positioning mechanisms – and with the telescope’s launch date pushed back years at a time – Klingemann said it was “unreal” that the telescope is finally launched in December.
“What a spark for our imaginations it will surely be,” said Lay. “We hope that an evening of questions and conversations with someone who has been intimately involved in the project will spark our community’s curiosity to follow Webb’s progress from its launch to decades of discovery to come.”
Sophie Dingle is a Steamboat Pilot & Today collaborator. She can be contacted via the editor.